When the San Francisco & San Jose Railroad opened a new frontier on the Peninsula in 1863, its depots staked claim as the region’s primary transportation service, a service that was here to stay.
Seven depots on the Caltrain railroad corridor have, indeed, stood the test of time. They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the highest honor that can be given to an historic building. The depots and their years of listing are:
San Carlos (1984)
Menlo Park (1974)
Palo Alto (1996)
Santa Clara (1985)
San Jose Diridon (1993)
The fact that seven depots with this designation are concentrated on a 50-mile railroad is noteworthy but perhaps even more the fact that none of the seven are remotely alike, according to Henry E. Bender Jr., an expert on Southern Pacific depots.
“Each is different,” he said, “considerably different. Other railroads had at least a few that looked sort of like the next one down the track. On the Caltrain line, there are no two that are the same and some, like Burlingame and San Carlos, you won’t find any like them in the world.”
The South Bay Historical Railroad Society, based at the Santa Clara station, oversees preservation issues for most of Caltrain’s historic depots, ensuring that any proposed addition or alterations do not impair their historic character. One of the rare depots that was built at the end of the Depression, Palo Alto’s Streamline Moderne depot also was added to the National Register.
The story of these seven depots is inextricable from those of their cities. Three of the depots were among the first structures in town, when the railroad was a magnet for new residents and businesses. Some served multiple uses such as telegraph and freight offices, two as post offices, and one as a library and a church.
Each historic depot played an important role in the development of the Peninsula’s communities and it is through the commitment of these communities that the depots have been preserved as a standing tribute to our region’s history.